The six hour drive to Kalaw among the beautiful landscape was comfortable in the air conditioned car. Unfortunately, it involved a brief lunch stop that I later regretted. I made an afternoon walk at the very interesting local market. The faces here are rather different that what we saw so far. Kalaw has a resident population of Shan state ethnic groups (Shan, Pa-O etc) along with Nepali Gurkhas, Indian Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims who were brought to Kalaw by the British to build the railway line. This ethnic diversity, which is evident in the market, makes it the one of the most photogenic markets in Myanmar.
By 7pm, I was feeling funny, much like when the flu kicks in, but hungry. We decided to follow Lonely Planet’s recommendation and searched for the Thu Maung restaurant. It was a joint for locals, which is always good, with very basic setup. I tried the chicken curry. It was assorted with about ten different small pots of dips, pickles, vegetables, rice and trimmings. Simply d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s.
By the time we got back to the hotel, I was feeling terribly sick. I woke up at 2am, shivering and had spent the rest of the night sweating, consuming fever medication and visiting the bathroom. It was rather obvious that my lunch included some suspicious vegetables with aggressive bacteria.
The morning program had a six hour trekking around Kalaw and the Palaung villages. I got the stomach flu before while on travel, in Nepal, and did stop me from following my plans. Again I decided to follow the schedule, only this time it was really painful. True, the landscape through luscious fields and dense forest was beautiful, but I was feeling on the verge of collapsing during the entire trek. After four hours, we arrived in Hin Kar Kone, a local Palaung village of 50 people and got some rest in one of the village houses. We were served food and tea, but I passed. There was nothing that I could digest at this point. I decided to leave the party and return to the hotel on the back of a motorbike, a long one hour bumpy ride that felt like a century. I went straight to bed and only woke up to have a tasty in-room dinner with sweet-corn soup and grilled chicken, before going back to sleep for the rest of the night.
The next morning we followed the road from Kalaw to Pinaya Paya, one of the most interesting parts of the journey. It was not so much the landscape, which was very beautiful by the way, but rather the feeling of being in the backyard of Myanmar. After about one hour, we stopped by a small wooden hut at the side of the road to taste the local “delicacy”, fried beans and flour. We got the chance to interact with the lovely family and the people that worked in the nearby construction works.
The Pinaya Paya is a cave, formed one million years ago that houses some eleven thousand Buddha images of all sizes and materials! It is really packed in there. The visitor has to walk among narrow passages with innumerable buddha statues occupying the walls, the floor, the ceiling and everything in between.
After a short stop at a local animal bazaar, we continued by car to Nyaungshwe, the entry point to Inle Lake.
Next: Inle Lake.